A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ode to the Radio Personality

Sometimes it's the person who gives you the news and chats with you first thing in the morning.  You've just been ripped awake and haven't had your coffee or your breakfast yet.  You're so fragile, and this person is able to help ease your way to wakefulness and help you get to work instead of climbing back into bed or driving your car off a bridge.

Sometimes it's the people who help you unwind on your drive home, telling you jokes and playing some tunes and allowing you to decompress after a long day of work.  Your coworkers were annoying, your project is behind schedule, your client hates you, traffic is so jammed that you might never make it home, but it's okay because the deejays are funny and the music is just what you needed.

Sometimes it's the person chatting you to sleep late at night, helping you to feel less alone.  Whether it's with stories of other people's sad love lives or calls about space aliens, you know that you're doing better than somebody.

I enjoy listening to the radio.  I love discovering new pop songs (and then wishing they would please, please stop playing them).  I like hearing the news in thirty seconds.  I especially like radio personalities.  They become like amusing friends who don't expect much out of me.  Sure, they try to sell me stuff, but so have some of my real friends.

So it makes me incredibly sad when they disappear.  Radio personalities, unlike other public figures, will be let go without notice and without any announcement to their listeners.  Over the years there have been so many times when I turned on my radio expecting to hear the same person I've been hearing for years, and it's different.  And different is not what I'm looking for.

The result is one of three things:

  • Music!  Lots of music!  We're better than all those other stations because we play hours and hours of non-stop music! Why?  Because in the interests of cost-cutting we fired all of our deejays and lost all our sponsorships, but we're not going to tell you that.  We've just changed our format to be more music for you, the listener, because we love you!
  • Hi, I'm a new voice from somewhere back east.  I know absolutely nothing about the Portland Metro area, and I'm laughing at my own jokes because they've got me all alone in this room, but I'm going to do my very best because they cut my show that I used to do back east where people knew me and loved me. 
  • Syndicated show from Los Angeles.  You are getting the same canned entertainment that is being played on 800 other stations around the country.  Hope you didn't want any local news.  Hope there aren't any local emergencies.  
Regardless, there's absolutely no mention of what happened to the people the radio station has been using as the face of their product for the last few years.  They're just gone.  They've stopped existing.  And in this age of one company owning a huge chunk of the airwaves, it's hard to get anyone to admit anything even changed.  

Lately there have been some "changes" taking place at a local radio station.  I just heard about yet another radio personality who is joining all the others who have been shown the door over the last few weeks.  I know nothing about why or how because no one is allowed to talk.   

None of them will probably ever read this blog post, but I still want to say that when these people disappear from the airwaves, I notice.  I enjoyed listening, I miss them, and I wish them well, wherever they might land.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Where Have You Been, Young Lady?

My father-in-law has been getting on my case for not blogging recently.  He's right that I have not blogged at all this year.  I started to a few times, but then I . . . didn't.

So for Woody and my other five followers here is my list of excuses for why I have not been blogging in 2013:

I did not make a resolution in 2013 to blog.  

I'm very big on goal setting as a way to accomplish things, and without a specified goal I tend to not do anything at all.  You want to know what I did resolve to do in 2013?  I resolved not to dye my hair, figuring that was an easy one that I could succeed at.  It's kind of like writing "brush teeth" on my to do list in the morning, sometimes even if I already have.  It's important to have a sense of accomplishment.

I was discouraged by the lingering divisiveness from the 2012 election.  

I'm not actually kidding about this.  All the venomous political chatter makes me want to abandon social media and live in a hobbit hole somewhere.  I'd written an additional post on the topic, and Jacob told me it just made me sound like a judgmental jerk.  There's already enough of that out there, so I deleted it.

I actually have a day job.
One of my 2013 resolutions was to put a little more of my time and mental energy into my work.  With all the health issues of the last few years, my job had taken a back burner, but those excuses are fading.  I figured I'd actually work kind of like a normal person for a change.

I didn't feel well.

I don't get to eat any of this.
Despite having put some health issues behind me (pun intended, for those who know what I was dealing with), I've been sick this year.  I was sick enough to pursue alternative medicine, something I've been skeptical of.  The good news is that I got some answers and am feeling better.  The bad news is I can't eat any of the foods that make life worth living.  

Am I going to be blogging again now?  I originally blogged to give myself some writing practice.  I stuck with it because of my new year's resolution.

So here are questions for you, my readers (all five of you) that have encouraged me to continue:

  1. Why should I blog?  I'm not going to do it as a sad ploy for attention.
  2. What on earth is my blog about?  Is it a humor blog?  Telling myself my goal is to be funny sounds like the fastest way to never write another funny thing ever.  

So let me know what you think, and I might just write more than one post in 2013.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Tumbling Off The Fiscal Cliff

So it seems that our Congress will not be able to come to any sort of agreement this year on how to handle the expiring tax provisions and budget issues that have been dubbed the Fiscal Cliff.  Is that a disaster?  No, not really.  They'll probably come to an agreement over the next few days (perhaps over drinks in a couple of hours), and this will all be but a happy memory.

However, in honor of our impending tumble off the Fiscal Cliff (cue the foreboding music), I thought I'd show you what this might mean for a couple of different American families, at least on the income tax side of things.  I'm not even going to pretend to know what it would mean on the budget side.

Oh, and in case you didn't realize this, I am not giving any tax advice in this blog entry (or in any of my blog entries), so don't you dare do something stupid with your money and then blame me.  Moving on...

I've invented two lovely families to use as examples of what the Fiscal Cliff would do to a couple of different tax situations.  For the purposes of my scenarios, no one ever gets raises or changes their spending habits or even pays down debt. Unfortunately, this is not far from reality.

First, let's look at Henry and Margaret Doe.  They are what most people would consider "middle class."  They live in a nice house in the city with their two lovely children.  Henry makes about $75,000 a year, and his loving wife makes about $30,000.  They put 10% of their income into their 401(k)s.  They only make about $20 of interest per year, though, because they don't actually have a lot of money.  They have a fairly hefty amount of debt, so much that their mortgage interest deduction is about $10,000 a year, and a chunk of that is actually home equity debt from when they refinanced some of their credit cards.

In 2011, they had a federal tax liability of close to $7,000 at a marginal rate of 15%.

In 2012, because Congress hasn't "patched" the Alternative Minimum Tax yet, they are going to pay about $7,800 at a 26% marginal rate.

AMT, you ask?  But Henry and Margaret aren't rich.  They are barely making their house payments and are underwater on their mortgage.  I thought the AMT was designed to keep rich people from dodging taxes!

Well, whether Henry and Margaret are rich or not is relative.  They're richer than the vast majority of people in the world, and they're richer than most Americans, too.  The AMT is expected to affect a huge chunk of American taxpayers if it isn't patched because it doesn't allow you to deduct things like home equity interest or state income taxes.  Oh, and did I mention that Henry and Margaret live in Oregon?  They pay a lot of state income taxes.

2013 is going to get even uglier for Henry and Margaret.  In fact, they won't even be subject to the AMT because their regular tax will have skyrocketed.  The 10% tax bracket is disappearing and the tax brackets for married taxpayers are shrinking.  Tax rates are going up, too, and Henry and Margaret will basically lose the $2,000 child tax credit they've been enjoying for Henry Jr and Little Maggie.  If the laws are left unchanged, their 2013 federal tax bill will be close to $10,000.  Ouch!

Now let's look at a different American taxpayer. Jake and Ally Donaldson are in their upper 20s.  Like Henry and Margaret, they are college-educated and have two darling children.  Unfortunately, Jake is only making $50,000 a year, and Ally is home taking care of the kids.

Jake and Ally are basically living at the American median income.  They aren't even pretending to be rich.  Those degrees were expensive, though, and Jake and Allie are deducting the full $2,500 of student loan interest on their tax returns along with getting the $2,000 child tax credit.

In 2011, Jake and Ally paid only $300 in federal income tax, and in 2012 they will pay less than $200 because of the increasing exemptions.

2013 is a different story, however.  Jake and Ally are slated to lose their student loan interest deduction.  In addition, the child tax credit will be only half what it was in 2012.  Consequently, if the law stands as it is, Jake and Ally will pay more the $2,600 in federal tax for 2013.  That's a big jump!

Keep in mind that Congress will probably extend the Bush tax cuts for both of these families, and they can continue to live at the level to which they have become accustomed.

I thought this would be an interesting way to look at the effects of tax laws.  You can take this information and come to whatever conclusions you want.  Note a couple of things, however:
  • The Donaldson tax bill is going to go up nearly as much as the Doe tax bill is in actual dollars, but while the Doe tax bill is increasing by almost 40%, the Donaldson tax bill is increasing by well over 700%.
  • Jake and Ally make about half what Henry and Margaret make, but have a lot less than half of their tax bill.
  • Both of these families pay a lot of social security taxes, too.
Oh, and let's not forget that as of the moment I'm writing this the national debt stands at over $16 trillion.  That's more than $52,000 per American citizen, and we currently have a $1 trillion per year deficit, so that's only going to get bigger.

What do you think?  Should the taxes on these families increase?  What can we do to reduce spending if we don't want taxes to go up?

If you haven't seen this yet, I recommend visiting the Wall Street Journal's Make Your Own Deficit-Reduction Plan.  It allows you to try your hand at reducing the deficit yourself.  Make lots of cuts.  Raise taxes on everyone you don't like (or maybe on yourself).  You'll see how big this problem really is.

I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, and please don't hurt yourself falling off the fiscal cliff. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Photo Shoot Attempt

It's been years since we sent Christmas cards that have pictures with them.  In fact, I think we've missed sending them altogether for most of the last five years, and we haven't had professional pictures done since the kids were potty trained.

This year I was determined to send photo Christmas cards.  The kids have gotten older, but more importantly, I've gotten thinner!  We need to immortalize it before I gain that 75 pounds back.

But I'm too cheap to get professional pictures done and too lazy to learn photography, so today when Isaac got home from school I made the kids do all kinds of stupid poses with the family.  Isaac was a good sport.  Mindy kept slipping away to call and report us to child services.

Here for your viewing pleasure are the photos that didn't make the cut.  Please, do not post to tell me that these are bad.  I know that they're bad.  That's the point.


There are so many things wrong with this picture.  I'm barely in the shot.  Mindy looks bored.  Jacob looks inspired.  Isaac looks pained.  It's awful.

This is set up a little better, but how cheesy can you get?  Mindy is right to look skeptical of the staged absurdity.
This should be on awkwardfamilyphotos.com.
Oh, and notice that Jacob's expression hasn't changed.  His expression never changes!

Oops.  I missed.

Again, I think Mindy has the right idea here.

This might have been nice, except . . .
To his credit, he had been incredibly patient.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

I try very hard to avoid discussing politics because I really, really, really hate confrontation.  It makes me cry.

I'm not going to talk about politics now, either, so don't start posting about how horribly wrong I am and what an awful person I am and how I'm destroying our nation with my backward political leanings, okay?  It will make me cry.

I just want to encourage you to think before you speak.  I've seen so many horrible things being said online, and I tell myself again and again that you all don't mean them.  But the truth is, if you don't mean them, you need to stop saying them.  Don't you understand that you are saying these things about your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, and your family?

Not every woman who voted for Obama because they cared about women's rights is a slut collecting a paycheck from the government.  Believe it or not, some women who use birth control do so because they  don't want to burden society with a plethora of children that they can't afford to support.   It doesn't mean they are promiscuous.  They may be happily married.  These women don't expect the government to provide them with birth control, but they certainly do want the medical insurance they pay for to cover birth control.  It's a whole lot cheaper than childbirth.

Not every man who voted for Romney is a selfish, racist misogynist with a binder full of women.  It is highly likely he is a father deeply concerned about the rising debt crisis and afraid that current political policies are leaving his children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt and a lifeless economy.  He doesn't want his years of hard work to be squandered by those who haven't earned it, and he particularly doesn't want his children to spend all their working years just trying to pay the bills of the last generation.

Some people who voted for Obama think he might just be able to help the economy.  They see the Bush years as evidence that lower taxes for the wealthy and low regulation don't stimulate the economy the way they teach in Economics 101.  Perhaps the way to dig ourselves out of this huge deficit is to increase taxes on those who actually have some money instead of continuing to concentrate wealth at the highest end of the spectrum while bills continue to mount.

Some people who voted for Romney think he might just be able to make something good happen in Washington.  They think Obama has had four years to fix the economy and all he's done is increase class warfare.  Perhaps someone with success in business can appeal to businesses and get our economy functioning at full power again.  They certainly believe Romney is more likely to stem the tide of spending that is pulling the country into a hole it may never dig its way out of.

A lot of people who voted for Obama did so because they are willing to pay higher taxes to keep our country strong.

A lot of people who voted for Romney did so because they are willing to get less from government if it means the national debt problem can be reversed.

The election is over.  Regardless of whether your man won or lost, there is a ton of work to do, and none of it will be done if we waste time hating on each other.  Let's talk constructively about what comes next and perhaps we can find common ground.

Just don't resort to more offensive name-calling.  It will make me cry.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Yesterday I mentioned in my post that when you're trying to do NaNoWriMo that all sorts of other things suddenly start to seem important.

A shining example: today when I got home from work I sat down to start my novel and started researching earthquake preparedness.  I was going to make a list and start putting together all the things our family needs in case of an earthquake, but I stopped myself because I am supposed to be writing!  I hunkered down and churned out almost 1,700 words, a respectable start.

Granted, because I have written this, there will be a massive earthquake and my family won't be prepared and my insistence on writing rather than preparing my family for disaster will look pretty foolish, won't it?  I apologize for bringing disaster down on everyone.  If you aren't doing NaNoWriMo, here's a link to a site to help you prepare for the earthquake: http://www.ready.gov/earthquakes.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, then what on earth are you doing wasting time on my blog.  Go write your novel!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to Write a Novel

Since NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow, I figured I'd offer some tips on how to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

  1. Write.  I know this seems fairly obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many "writers" fail because they don't actually write.  
  2. Don't worry about quality.  During the month of November I've written some of the most awful scenes you can imagine.  I've written scenes where my main character has long internal monologues about how difficult it is to write.  I've even written scenes where my characters sit around and play icebreakers.  The truth is, these scenes can help you move to a place where you can write something good. You know what the best thing is about these terrible scenes, though?  They can be deleted in December.
  3. Keep writing.  Writing a novel is like eating the proverbial elephant -  you write it one word at a time.  Don't think about how many words you have to write or how far behind you are.  Just keep writing.
  4. Avoid distractions.  Are you sensing a theme here?  If you are going to finish this novel, you need to be writing.  That means that this isn't the time to take on a new project - remodeling the kitchen, landscaping the yard, teaching yourself to crochet - no matter how fun it sounds.  It's time to write.
  5. Do take breaks, though.  You need to bathe.  You need to eat.  You need to hug your children and clean the bathroom and walk around a bit.  You probably even have to go to work.  You can do all these things and still succeed.  I've successfully completed NaNoWriMo while parenting two toddlers and going to school full-time.  It can be done.
  6. Take chances.  I'm not saying you should drive too fast or go snowboarding.  I'm saying you should let your story fly free.  You were planning to write an epic saga of one family's struggle against famine in Ireland?  It's okay to go ahead and turn it into a horror novel if that's the direction the characters seem to be headed.  The Irish epic would have been tedious, anyway.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Last year I got stuck and asked for help on Facebook.  My heroine was just wandering in a meadow.  It was beyond dull, and I had no idea what to do with her.  My friend Meagan suggested ninja pirates.  I let my main character get kidnapped and thus was born one of the best characters in the book (according to Jacob).  And now I have a novel with both space ships and pirate ships.  How cool is that?
  8. Don't be afraid to write while on narcotics.  So maybe you're not firing on all cylinders.  Apparently it's still possible to write some compelling narrative.  I imagine this advice isn't useful to most people, but I'm glad I went ahead and wrote through the fog last year.
  9. Throw in some healthy competition.  My brother and I generally do NaNoWriMo together.  On the website we are buddies and can see how many words we've each written.  It is a big motivation when I see that he is 5,000 words ahead.  I can't possibly let my brother beat me!
  10. Write some more.  You're feeling fat from Thanksgiving and exhausted from Christmas shopping and just realized you're still 20,000 words short of your goal?  Sit down and write.  It's not too late until December 1st.  Last year I wrote more than 12,500 words in the last three days alone.